Kate Field: Selected Letters

Kate Field: Selected Letters

Kate Field: Selected Letters

Kate Field: Selected Letters

Synopsis

Although famous during her lifetime, Kate Field (1838–1896) subsequently slipped into such a state of obscurity that in 1964, when the St. Louis American published a bicentennial article to honor one of the city's most distinguished daughters, the eulogy bore the title "Who Was Kate Field?" Carolyn Moss has collected correspondence ranging over more than fifty years to allow Field to answer that question herself. Field was acquainted with, among numerous others, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, Julia Ward Howe, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, the Brownings, and the Trollopes. Outside the world of literature, she hobnobbed with such men and women as Harriet Hosmer, Horace Greeley, Gilbert and Sullivan, Stanley and Livingstone, and Alexander Graham Bell. That Field's contemporaries attached much importance to her correspondence is demonstrated by the fact that her letters were preserved and found their way into more than thirty archives. For those of us heading into the twenty-first century, the letters enrich our knowledge of Field's contemporaries and help illuminate an epoch. Taking a chronological approach, Moss has divided the correspondence into ten parts. Part 1 covers Field's St. Louis childhood, her days as a Boston schoolgirl, and her trip to Europe. Part 2 deals with her stay in Florence and her friendship with the Brownings, the Trollopes, and other literary visitors. In part 3, Field returns to America, where she achieves fame as a journalist, lecturer, and author. In part 4, she writes of her voyage to London and the grief and readjustment occasioned by the death of her mother. She becomes, in part 5,a playwright and actress, promotes Bell's telephone, and helps establish the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Part 6 finds Field founding the Ladies' Cooperative Dress Association. Part7deals with her campaign against the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. In part 8, Field crosses America to promote Alaska and to lecture against prohibition. Part 9 contains Field's correspondence as owner and editor of Kate Field's Washington,and part 10 shows her final days. While Field's achievements are indeed impressive, Moss points out that the dauntless spirit of this voteless, unmarried, and at times destitute woman is more impressive still.

Excerpt

As the year 1996 is the centennial of Kate Field's death, it is fitting that a memorial mark the occasion; fitting, too, that this memorial be composed of her own letters, which, given their autobiographical impulse, show her as a living woman rather than as a biographer's re-created image.

That her contemporaries attached much importance to her correspondence is attested by the fact that her letters were preserved and found their way into more than thirty archives. Though the comparison is no doubt arbitrary, Poe's letters (apart from those owned by private individuals) exist in only twenty-one institutions and Emily Dickinson's (again apart from private ownership) in only fourteen. Less arbitrarily, the number of the preserved holograph letters of Field, Poe, and Dickinson might have been compared, had not Lilian Whiting, Field's biographer and friend, destroyed a great number of the Field letters she collected.

Kate Field's achievements as journalist, author, lecturer, actress, and ownereditor of Kate Field's Washington are impressive indeed, but the dauntless spirit of this voteless, unmarried, and at times destitute woman in a man's world is more impressive still. For like Thoreau and Whitman, she answered Emerson's call for an American Scholar, despite the fact that the great Transcendentalist, though he tried to see the world as pictured in the mind of God, seems not to have had a woman is mind. For unthinkingly he declared that "The scholar is . . . Man Thinking"; that "Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist"; that "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members"; and that "The main enterprise of the world for splendor, for extent, is the upbuilding of a man." Nor, apparently, did it occur to the Sage of Concord to write so much as an essay on Representative Women. As "Woman Thinking," Kate Field's mission, by her own precept and example, to say nothing of her own powerful urge for self-fulfillment, was to encourage women to enter the Emersonian world, where (to adapt Emerson's lovely phrase) they could find gifts after their will.

Editorial Procedures

In the preparation of this one-volume edition of Kate Field's letters, all of her known manuscript letters were collected, chronologized, and annotated. When such manuscripts no longer existed, published versions were used. Those ver-

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